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I have a video card that has version 4.1 and the game recommends 5.0, but says at minimum 3.0...

How will these two aspects of the video card impact the overall performance of the game?

Will there be any noticeable effect at all or will I just have to scale down the graphics?

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The differences between Shader Model 4.1 and 5.0 are almost entirely on the side of ease of use for the programmer, with a secondary benefit for performance. You probably will never notice a visual difference.

As Tom's Hardware puts it in their look into Shader Model 5 (emphasis mine):

So the code is all in a single place, which makes bug correction easier. At the same time, legibility doesn’t suffer thanks to the organization of the code, which resembles the concept of virtual functions in object-oriented languages. This feature will be welcomed by programmers, but won’t have any real impact for gamers.

Essentially, programmers can now write more efficient code, with better organisation, and that brings fewer bugs, better testability, and consequently the possibility of (marginally) better performance. (Of course, if they still have to support SM 4.1, that may nullify the improvements in testability and fewer bugs, because they actually have to write more code, for each version of the Shader Model – but that's another story...)

  • Never notice the difference until a game fails to run because your GPU doesn't support the necessary shader model, you mean. – kotekzot Nov 6 '13 at 4:49
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    @kotekzot Well yeah. In the context of this question where the game's minimum requirement is 3.0 and the recommended is 5.0, and the card is 4.1, that's not relevant. I get the impression that the asker is aware that minimum means minimum and future games may have a minimum higher than 4.1 (in, say, 10 years–3.0 is ten years old now), and is strictly looking at the functional difference. – SevenSidedDie Nov 6 '13 at 4:50

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